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Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Rev Al: back on the market

Yeah, I left my wife a few years ago, so what?

TV's Democratic minister of 'moral values' takes a hypocritical plunge
On a New High, Sharpton Hits a New Low
by Wayne Barrett
December 7th, 2004 1:15 AM


In the lawyers' letter, Sharpton reveals that he has not lived with his wife and two daughters in their enormous Brooklyn mansion since April 2003, when the couple agreed to "terminate their marriage." This flies in the face of repeated claims during his year and a half of presidential hoopla—especially one as recently as July 2004, when he rebutted a Daily News item about an alleged other woman by insisting that "Kathy has been my rock and always will be." The self-described "grassroots activist" now says through lawyers that he "moved" to the luxurious Helmsley Carlton, though he told reporters who caught him there earlier this year that it was merely an easy place to lay his head while on the campaign trail. But this story is not about a pol concealing an unraveled marriage until a press announcement of separation exactly two days after the election.


What does any of it matter? Ironically, with all of this intrigue circulating just beneath the surface, Sharpton has made himself into some sort of national religious figure, asking on Meet the Press just a week ago: "All of us are talking about whether God is on our side. Are we really on God's side?" He and Jerry Falwell have squared off four times on national television—immediately before and after the election—as the embodiment of the moral values of their respective parties.

Indeed, after collecting a puny fraction of the delegates that Jesse Jackson and Shirley Chisholm won in their presidential campaigns, Sharpton has miraculously repackaged himself as a combination Spike TV reality star, supposed candidate for the helm of the NAACP, kingmaker within the Democratic National Committee, and telegenic conscience of the left. For New Yorkers who know our most famous reverend well, watching him on display as a post-election ethical compass, representing Democratic values, is the final sick joke in a year when we thought Karl Rove already had the last laugh.

Having been interviewed by the Voice about Harris et al. before his Tim Russert appearance, the usually synthetic Sharpton behaved as if he couldn't get his real life out of his mind. In response to Russert's abortion question, Sharpton inexplicably trailed off into a bizarre monologue about the breakup of his own marriage, which he said had "just ended a couple of years ago," a seeming contradiction in time. Not skipping a beat, he then invoked the name of Marjorie Fields-Harris without so much as identifying his obscure executive director, citing her as an example of how "we" are "building a new party" to, among other things, "protect American values."

This stream of consciousness was designed to promote Harris's behind-the-scenes candidacy for DNC vice chair, but it also suggested that even on Sunday morning's top talk show, Sharpton had a hard time discussing his doomed marriage without mentioning Marjorie Harris. Claiming retroactively that his marriage "ended" two years ago, of course, muddies the waters about what he's been doing since, and five Voice visits to Kathy Sharpton's dark Flatbush home provoked no supporting or contrary information. A visit to Harris's herringbone floored apartment complex at the Heritage at Trump Place—"towering over the Hudson River" with its own health spa, pool, gym, salon, interior garden, and theater—earned us the Rubenstein warning letter that a harassment complaint would be filed against us, but she refused to get on the concierge phone.

"If I was a black woman living in a urine-stained apartment in Harlem, you would not be writing this story," Harris told the Voice later in the abbreviated interview that did occur. "You have a problem with a black woman living in a Trump building." She confirmed that she bought a new Cadillac and Mercedes in 2002, but declined to discuss her sources of income, which include her undisclosed salary as Sharpton's top aide at the nonprofit NAN and any earnings from a for-profit political consulting firm she's formed, the Fields-Harris Group.


Harris's registration efforts, by the way, consist largely of an 877 helpline number that simply gives callers with questions NAN's number, an occasional card table at a shopping center, and radio commercials Harris made herself. She didn't even register in New York until August 2001, almost two years after she joined NAN, and the city election board says they do no work with her organization. With so much energy spent on bluster at NAN, there has long been little left for actual programs.

The importance of Sharpton, however, is as symbol. He has surfaced in every major NY race for decades, and it is certain he will attempt to influence the 2005 mayoral, having already claimed in his memoir, Al on America, that he made Mike Bloomberg mayor in 2001. Despite failing to hit double digits in any state primary (he did in DC), he has never cut so grand a national figure, indicating now that he may run for president in 2008 and announcing in September that NAN, the black caucus, and Bill Cosby were launching a campaign to "bring black families together." All this means he should occasionally be held to the same standards routinely applied to other leaders.

The mystery of the Sharpton/Harris relationship starts with her ex-husband, Basil Smikle, who finally got a divorce in September 2003, six months after she left their Harlem apartment on 147th Street. An aide to Senator Hillary Clinton at the time of their marriage in 2001, Smikle now runs his own consulting business. After meeting Harris in Sharpton's office in January 2000 during the Clinton campaign, he proposed to her within two months. But by that September, while preparing for the wedding, he discovered what a close friend of his told the Voice were "e-mails with Sharpton that raised eyebrows." On her personal e-mail——he saw a message to Sharpton about how the relationship with Basil wasn't going well. Referring to Sharpton as her "soulmate," the e-mail promised that "things" would be back to normal soon, adding that she loved him. In another e-mail she received on her Palm Pilot, Sharpton made reference to his need to "release bodily fluids."

When Smikle confronted Harris about these e-mails, she convinced him that Sharpton was the aggressor and that she would rebuff him. In fact, the ties between Smikle and her grew as a result of the exchange and they went forward with a May 26 marriage. Simultaneously, on October 3, Sharpton "surprised" Kathy by giving her "the gift she always wanted—a church wedding," he told the press. A Las Vegas justice of peace had performed their November 1980 nuptials. The gala, which would be attended by over a thousand guests and include full bridal gear and a Puck Building reception, was initially scheduled for June 3, a week after Harris's wedding. Sharpton's surprise jailing in the Vieques protests in Puerto Rico forced him to postpone it. He was also unexpectedly in jail on Harris's wedding day, though he was not one of the four scheduled presiders and had already decided not to attend, according to another aide. This coincidence, of course, would be followed in 2003 by their simultaneous move-outs.

Smikle's friend says the problems soon reappeared and that "Basil was never comfortable about the relationship between the Rev and Marjorie," convinced in fact that Sharpton "seemed to go out of his way to drive a wedge between them" and that "she never stopped him." They BlackBerried each other deep into the night. They traveled constantly together, always first class and at the most expensive hotels, reaching costs of $4,000 a night. "Black stretch limos with black drivers," conceded Harris snidely, were sent by Rubenstein "often" to the Harlem apartment to "take me wherever I needed to go," a perk that she simply attributed to him being "one of my lawyers."

Though she specifically refused to answer questions about her sudden surfeit of expensive accessories, Smikle noticed a $7,000 Rolex, mink coats, and David Yurman jewels appraised at $1,500 and $4,000. She bought a Caddy at Dick Gidron's Bronx dealership, where NAN did all its business and where the owner, a convicted felon, was one of the Rev's financial supporters, even paying off part of his personal debts. Telling the Voice last Friday that she was still making payments on the car and did not get a discount, she registered and insured it in New York under her own name, and sent it off to North Carolina for her mother. Sharpton was so close to her mother he called her every Sunday night. Smikle did not know she also bought a Mercedes in December 2002 until the dealer called him at home to see if he was happy with it. He could not figure out how she was paying for it all.

Finally, Smikle told her the relationship with Sharpton had to change or he wanted a divorce. He demanded she come clean; she would neither admit nor change anything. She says Rubenstein at first advised her on the divorce and then referred her to famed Long Island attorney Dominic Barbara, who's gone from Joey Buttafuoco to current clients Mike Lohan (father of Lindsay) and Victoria Gotti. Barbara called Sharpton a "good friend" in a brief conversation with the Voice, but did not complete the interview. Smikle represented himself.


Indeed Harris's NAN workload is so scant that her bio, which she's distributed to various places recently, says she's the "former executive director" of the organization. Sharpton confirmed that in a Voice interview, saying the position "is vacant." But Harris said she has "no idea" why he'd say that and that's she's continuously served in that capacity for five years. Sharpton and she say they are working on a book about the campaign, which they intend to market through an agent, though the most Harris has ever written is a couple of op-ed pieces. Several ex-employees who remain uncritically loyal to Sharpton admit that they can't explain what Harris actually does, or why he publicly promotes her, with one top aide saying he had to leave because of "the appearances of impropriety" between Sharpton and Harris.

The Harris saga is not just a question of sex; it's a window into the dysfunction of Sharpton's universe. NAN's domain name was purchased in September 2003 and no one's ever talked to the company that bought it; they just stopped posting. The Voice sent a donor up to the 125th Street office in December 2003 to make a $25 contribution and the check was never cashed. Sharpton's campaign owes $479,050.72, having stiffed many vendors and staffers, most of them black, just as he and NAN have stiffed everyone from travel agencies to limo companies to the firm that had the title on a $46,880 SUV Sharpton leased from Gidron. The Federal Election Commission even wants its $100,000 in public matching funds back because Sharpton has refused to comply with a subpoena for detailed campaign records. The subpoena involves the over-the-limit expenses billed to Sharpton's credit card to cover Marjorie and Eddie Harris's travel.

The recidivist reinventor has survived so many sordid episodes—from his days as a confidential FBI informant to the defamation finding against him in the Tawana Brawley case to his suspicious ties this year with a top GOP dirty-tricks operative—that he appears impervious to revelation. He's entertainment. His core, it's said, will never waver. But he's operating now at a higher level and the larger he gets, the more vulnerable to fact he may become. His sidekicks are now whispering secrets about his wife the way they used to about Jackson. This time, he may have gone too far, and not even his magic tongue will keep him on that life-giving screen.

He's a fucking minister. If they can't date, what's the point of being one? Hell, they all do it. King, Jackson. hey,at least they're straight. Only choir directors are allowed to be gay in the black church.

The problem is that who can really go after him on this?

Despite the taint of impropriety, and it's a pretty healthy one, there isn't anyone in New York politics who can say a word. Giuliani best keep his mouth shut, Bloomberg isn't popular enough to say anything, and everyone else needs his support.

Wayne Barrett is right. Sharpton's financial misamangement is a serious matter, which is why I'm posting this. I don't feel bound by the code of not exposing "our dirty laundry", because while I could care less where he puts his dick, he's been strangely missing in action in New York politics since 2001. He's gotten a lot of press for various things, but he's not exactly been on the ground in New York.

See, this is why grassroots activism is so critical. While I respect what Sharpton has done in terms of dealing with the NYPD, I don't think he's my voice. People need their own, collective voice. Relying on Sharpton to represent you is silly.

Of course, people need heroes, and Sharpton was more than willing to fulfill that role. However, he wasn't willing, like most of these people on the right or left, to uphold the moral compact which should come with such a role. The only person who even had a clue that they weren't above morals was Billy Graham, who is never alone with a woman in a room. He knew he wasn't a saint, and acted accordingly.

The fact that he pushed his girlfriend to get money which should have gone to community activism is sad, but not suprising. It's a common enough disease. It's a shame that no one stood up to him before this. Well, now that the dirt is in the street, well, this should be amusing.

posted by Steve @ 1:09:00 PM

1:09:00 PM

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